When traveling to some countries, visiting the capital city is the least exciting activity. In a country like the Philippines made up of thousands of islands with pristine shores, you will tend to skip the capital. The magnificent beaches deserve worldwide recognition for sure, but what if we are doing the buzzing Manila injustice? Keep reading to find out what it has to offer and decide for yourself.
The National Museum of the Philippines
The museum complex is one of the highest buildings in the Philippines, and one of the oldest. The original building dates back to 1901, where the Department of Public Instruction opened the Insular Museum of Ethnology, Natural History, and Commerce. Over the next hundred years, the department regularly changed the infrastructure by adding new buildings, turning them into libraries and tourism offices.
The museum fell victim to World War II, as it lost a massive portion of its collection during the Japan Occupation. Luckily, President Ferdinand Marcos spent a tremendous amount of effort to restore the museum and its valuable artifacts. After opening new museum buildings in the park, the government merged them under the name The National Museum Of the Philippines.
The title makes it sound like it is one museum, but it consists of four parts.
The National Museum of Fine Arts
Originally constructed as a public library, the building came into being in 1921. Remaining intact despite the massive damage during World War 2, the museum is now home to Manila’s National Art Gallery.
National Museum of Anthropology
The building formerly served as the headquarters of the Department of Finance. Today, the museum contains artefacts of ancient Philipinos, maritime, ethnology, ivory trade, and so on. You can also find the shipwreck of a warship of the Spanish Navy called San Diego.
National Museum of Natural History
Initially serving as the headquarters of the Department of Tourism, the museum is one of the most recent additions to the complex. Inspired by the helix structure of DNA, the building stands out for its innovative design. You can find several exhibitions about the natural sciences in this division.
The National Planetarium is the center of astronomical studies in Manila since 1975. The main hall can accommodate more than 300 people and has daily shows and documentaries about various topics, such as the Solar System and the astronomical myths of the Philippines.
The museums we listed above are all part of Rizal Park, but its significance to the Philippines goes beyond that. The park got its name after Jose Rizal, a Filipino Patriot who got executed in 1986. The execution triggered a series of events that led to the Philippine Revolution to overthrow the Kingdom of Spain. It later became a symbol of the country’s independence, as the declaration of autonomy from the United States took place here in 1946.
Covering 58 hectares, Rizal Park is the largest urban park in Asia. You should spend at least a full day here even if you are not visiting the museums. The Rizal Monument stands erected in the center of the park as a symbol of the sufferings endured. Today, it is still the most festive part of Manila ever since hosting the Philippine Centennial in 1998 to commemorate the fight for independence.
Rizal Park boasts five gardens, containing plant varieties from Japan, China, and Germany, as well as native ones. Aside from the gardens and the museums, it houses an Open-Air Auditorium for concerts, flag ceremonies, and film festivals. Spending a day in this lovely park, you will realize how underrated it is.
San Augustin Church
Situated in the old town region Intramuros, San Augustin Church is one of the primary examples of the Spanish Colonial Period in the Philippines.
The first structure got erected in 1571 but received severe damage many times. The reasons behind the destruction range from fires to British Occupation in the 18th century and the Japanese Occupation during WWII. It even became a concentration camp for the Filipinos that the Japanese forces held hostage.
If you have visited Latin America, the architecture will remind you of the churches in Mexico. The edifice, the motifs, and the carvings on the wall all represent the Medieval Spanish Romanesque architecture. You will also find graves of famous Filipino artists and former Spanish governors in this iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site.
To enter the church, you will pass through San Augustin Museum containing religious sculptures and paintings.
Another remarkable structure from the Spanish Colonial Era is at the entrance of Intramuros. Fort Santiago was built by the orders of Spanish Governor Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1593 for defending the old city. Before its construction, the old town was vulnerable to invasion by Chinese pirates.
The citadel was a witness to intense battles, from British Occupation to Phillippine-American Wars. During these wars, it served as a base for the Spanish Royal Navy. Then, the Japanese forces converted Fort Santiago into prison after occupying the city and executed hundreds of war prisoners.
Thanks to the renovation work, Fort Santiago was born from its ashes, becoming an educational attraction for the country’s battle-packed history. Along the promenade surrounding the fort walls, you will stumble upon food vendors, craftsmen, and street musicians.
Manila Ocean Park
When you are visiting the Philippines, you will most likely partake in diving tours in crystal clear waters, so why not visit the aquarium in Manila for a teasing introduction? Opened in 2008, Manila Ocean Park is home to 277 marine species in 3000 cubic meters of water. The great thing about the theme park is that all of these species are indigenous, so no sea creature from other parts of the world was forcefully brought here.
You are going to dive deeper, strolling through seven sections, each with a different faunal profile. The main walkway provides 220 degrees of view under Manila Bay. There are also designated viewing points to look closely at sharks and stingrays. A recent addition to the aquarium is The Jellies Exhibit that displays the luminescent creatures abundant in Manila Bay.
The Philippines is all about diving, so you might want to train yourself in a simulation before embarking on adventures on the open sea. Luckily, Manila Ocean Park allows visitors to swim, dive and snorkel in its designated fish tanks. That’s not all; you can even wear a rental mermaid tail costume and blend into your surroundings.
Finally, if you are fortunate, you will come across amusing shows such as Sea Lion Show and All-Star Bird Show, which combine educational short movies with live performances of a symphony orchestra.
You learned a lot about the war history of the Spanish Philippines, but you might be wondering how daily life was in those times. Casa Manila is the replica of a grand mansion from the 19th century, depicting the Spanish Colonial Life and the lives of upper-middle-class Filipino families.
The three-story building showcases all types of rooms from offices to bedrooms and kitchen, with exquisite decorations, antiques, and paintings that the residents mostly imported from China or Europe. The courtyard and the magnificent fountain at its core are also worth a visit.
The Philippines might intrigue a lot of people for the phenomenal nature it offers, but the country witnessed a lot of wars and invasions, and so many countries influenced today’s Philippines. Visiting the museums, monuments, and the Old Town, you will get a great insight into the Latin America of Asia.
To get to the Philippines, you can fly from many cities like Hong Kong to Manila via Cathay Pacific. To ease into the jetlag with a comfy and luxurious flight, visit here for more flight information.